Should Christians Obey the Government?

Titus 3

1Remind your people to submit to the government and its officers. They should be obedient, always ready to do what is good. 2They must not speak evil of anyone, and they must avoid quarreling. Instead, they should be gentle and show true humility to everyone. (Titus 3:1-2, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

How do you view the government? Do you see the government as good or evil? How much control should our government have? Should we, as Christians, obey the government, or are we free to disobey the government when it suits us? What should the Christian’s response be towards our government and its leaders?

In Paul’s letter to Titus, he closes his thoughts in this final chapter with the admonition that people should obey the government and its leaders.

Paul’s command is not just that we would obey, but that we should do good, avoid quarreling and act with humility towards everyone. Honestly, when I nose around on social media for any extended period of time, I don’t usually see many believers who are actively heeding Paul’s words.

Whenever I see believers actively resisting the government these days, most often the basis given is that the government is evil, or the government is violating our constitutional rights or something similar.

Keep this in mind: when Paul wrote these words, Nero was in power over the Roman Empire. To say that Nero was not kind to the Christian community would be a gross understatement. Nero was so antagonistic towards Christians that he blamed the great fire of Rome in AD 64 on the Christian community. And yet, Paul here is urging Titus to tell his people that they should submit to the government and its officers.

There are two things to be aware of here regarding Paul’s command:

First, obeying government leaders is not a tacit admission that everything the government does is somehow holy and good.

Secondly, Paul’s command to obey the government is not a universal command to obey ANYTHING that the government says. It’s meant to be a general statement about our posture towards our leaders. In general, we should obey what the authorities are asking us to do. But that doesn’t mean that there are no circumstances where we would be justified in disobedience.

How do we know when we should obey or disobey?

Acts 4 provides a helpful guideline on this topic. The disciples are brought in before the religious leaders because of a miracle that has been performed in healing a crippled man at the Temple. As a result of this healing, many people were praising God. Peter and John took advantage of the situation and shared the gospel to a captive, curious and open audience. As a result, many believed in Jesus and became followers of Christ on that day.

But the religious leaders weren’t happy, so they brought the apostles into their presence for questioning. They used this opportunity to warn them not to continue spreading their “propaganda”. They told them to stop preaching the message about Jesus.

Peter and John’s reply is recorded in Acts 4:19, in which they say:

“Do you think God wants us to obey you rather than him? We cannot stop telling about the wonderful things we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19, NLT)

Here’s the principle: in general, Christians should obey their government and its leaders, particularly when there is no morally objectionable reason to disobey.

However, if our government or its leaders ask you to do something that is immoral or contradicts God’s laws or decrees, then we, as Christ followers, are morally obligated to reject that request and instead, pursue those activities that represent God’s moral law. In other words, when earthly laws and regulations contradict or oppose biblical laws and/or values, the biblical value should trump earthly rules every time.

Reflection

What are some laws or regulations that you are most likely to see Christians disregarding?

Why do you think believers are sometimes quick to resist government authorities and regulations? What are some of the reasons cited?

What are some government rules and regulations that you think Christians SHOULD reject and disobey? What reasoning can you give to explain why Christians should disobey those particular rules and regulations?

What would it look like for people to show gentleness and true humility to everyone?

 

Photo by visuals on Unsplash

 

Biblical Warning: Round 2

Hebrews 3

1And so, dear brothers and sisters who belong to God and are bound for heaven, think about this Jesus whom we declare to be God’s Messenger and High Priest. 2For he was faithful to God, who appointed him, just as Moses served faithfully and was entrusted with God’s entire house. 3But Jesus deserves far more glory than Moses, just as a person who builds a fine house deserves more praise than the house itself. 4For every house has a builder, but God is the one who made everything.

5Moses was certainly faithful in God’s house, but only as a servant. His work was an illustration of the truths God would reveal later. 6But Christ, the faithful Son, was in charge of the entire household. And we are God’s household, if we keep up our courage and remain confident in our hope in Christ. 7That is why the Holy Spirit says,

“Today you must listen to his voice.

8Don’t harden your hearts against him as Israel did when they rebelled, when they tested God’s patience in the wilderness.

9There your ancestors tried my patience, even though they saw my miracles for forty years.

10So I was angry with them, and I said, ‘Their hearts always turn away from me. They refuse to do what I tell them.’

11So in my anger I made a vow: ‘They will never enter my place of rest.’”

12Be careful then, dear brothers and sisters. Make sure that your own hearts are not evil and unbelieving, turning you away from the living God. 13You must warn each other every day, as long as it is called “today,” so that none of you will be deceived by sin and hardened against God. 14For if we are faithful to the end, trusting God just as firmly as when we first believed, we will share in all that belongs to Christ. 15But never forget the warning:

“Today you must listen to his voice. Don’t harden your hearts against him as Israel did when they rebelled.”

16And who were those people who rebelled against God, even though they heard his voice? Weren’t they the ones Moses led out of Egypt? 17And who made God angry for forty years? Wasn’t it the people who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18And to whom was God speaking when he vowed that they would never enter his place of rest? He was speaking to those who disobeyed him. 19So we see that they were not allowed to enter his rest because of their unbelief. (Hebrews 3:1-19, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

A few days ago, I wrote my thoughts about a warning that was included in Psalm 95. You can read my thoughts here.

Just two days later, I came to this passage in Hebrews 3, in which the author quotes the very text I had read from Psalm 95 and highlights the same warning that I mentioned a few days ago.

Coincidence?

Actually, these kinds of random biblical cross-references happen more often than you might think when you’re following the Grant Horner Bible reading plan.

So what is happening in this passage and why is the author referencing Psalm 95 to issue this warning?

The theme of the letter to the Hebrews could be labeled as “Jesus is Better than…”

The audience, as the name of the letter implies, is Hebrew Christians. These believers were in danger of reverting back to their Jewish rituals and customs as a means of appeasing God and gaining His favor.

So the author erects an outline, detailing in point by point fashion that Jesus is better than everything associated with the Old Testament religious system.

In chapter 1, the author demonstrates that Jesus is better than the angels, and now in this chapter, the author takes on the greatest icon within the Jewish religious system, Moses himself.

The author states that Jesus is better than Moses in the same way a builder of a house is better than the house.

The author then develops their argument by stating that Moses was faithful in God’s house but only as a servant. Jesus, on the other hand, is in charge of the household because he is a son, not a servant. I wrote about the implications of slaves/servants as opposed to sons here, in a blog post which referenced a passage from Galatians.

The point is that in the household of God, Moses was a servant. Yes, he was important and he played a key role and he was faithful in his duties. But Jesus is a SON in the household and therefore deserves more glory because as a son, He is the heir to the household. He is the owner!

The author then says that we (people) ARE God’s household. Our choice is that we can follow Moses who is a servant in God’s household, or we can follow Jesus, who is a son in God’s household. Which person makes more sense to follow?

It’s at this point that the author references the warnings from Psalm 95.

The warning can be paraphrased as follows:

    • We must listen to God’s voice today
    • Don’t harden your hearts as the Israelites did when they rebelled (see the Psalm 95 blog post here to read about the incident in which the Israelites rebelled against God)
    • The consequence for their rebellion was that they were not allowed to enter into God’s rest – they were not allowed to enter the promised land.

Starting in verse 12, the author of Hebrews begins to unpack the warning of Psalm 95 a bit more, demonstrating the implications of how the warning applies to his readers.

Remember, the recipients of this letter were being tempted to forsake Jesus as the object of their faith and trust for salvation and revert back to the Old Testament legal system, with its many rules and regulations as a means of achieving a righteous standing before God.

The author then elaborates on the warning, saying:

    • Make sure your hearts are not evil and unbelieving
    • This results in turning away from God
    • You must warn each other so that you won’t be deceived by sin and hardened against God
    • This hardening results in a lack of trust in God (unbelief)
    • Unbelief is characterized by disobedience

So the pattern is as follows: sin, hardening (lack of openness to God), distrust, disobedience.

When this pattern fully develops into disobedience, we will no longer experience the benefits of God’s rest. All of the benefits Jesus wants us to experience now as His beloved children and followers will fail to materialize.

How do we avoid the hardening, distrust, disobedience cycle?

It starts with listening to His voice, a command the author reiterates again in verse 15.  When we listen to His voice, we learn who He is and we learn to trust Him. We also learn what He wants from us and we learn how to follow Him.

When we don’t listen to His voice, it means that we’re listening to another voice, whether it’s our own or that of the culture or someone else. At that point, we’re no longer following God but we’re following ourselves.

How then do we listen to God’s voice?

It’s possible God may audibly speak to you but I would say that is not typical. The primary way in which God speaks to us today is through His word, the Scriptures. If you want to listen to God’s voice, to know Him and understand what He expects, then read the Scriptures. It’s through God’s word that we understand what is sin and what isn’t. It’s through His word that we understand who He is and who He isn’t.

If we fail to appeal to God’s word as our means of listening to His voice, it is quite likely we will be deceived by sin. We will begin to follow our own ideas about what we think is right and wrong. We may even attribute our new moral values to God Himself. Indeed, it’s quite common today for people to reject certain moral standards from the bible and replace them with more updated, contemporary values that speak to today’s cultural norms.

It is also common for these same people to claim to be God worshipers and Christ-followers. But if they are creating their own morality while rejecting what God explicitly says, they are in effect, creating their own version of God. This is the modern day equivalent of idol worship. I wrote about this in a previous post here.

This is deception, which leads to a hardening of the heart, which is characterized by not listening to God. This results in unbelief which is characterized by disobedience.

This cycle is alluring and it’s easy to fall into, which is why the author exhorts the audience to “warn each other every day”.

We are ALL susceptible to deceiving ourselves and falling into this religious trap.

Hence, the author says again in verse 15, “Never forget the warning”!

Reflection

In what ways are you tempted to harden your heart towards God?

What are some examples in today’s culture where you see people forsaking biblical moral values and substituting them for something that seems to fit our current culture better?

The author says that those who reject God because of their unbelief will not enter God’s rest? What do you think that means? What would it look like to not enter God’s rest?

What are some ways you could heed the author’s warning and ensure that you are listening to His voice today?

What can you do to ensure that you don’t harden your heart towards God?

 

Photo by Matthew T Rader on Unsplash

 

You Had ONE Job!

1 Samuel 15

1One day Samuel said to Saul, “I anointed you king of Israel because the LORD told me to. Now listen to this message from the LORD! 2This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘I have decided to settle accounts with the nation of Amalek for opposing Israel when they came from Egypt. 3Now go and completely destroy the entire Amalekite nation—men, women, children, babies, cattle, sheep, camels, and donkeys.’”

4So Saul mobilized his army at Telaim. There were 200,000 troops in addition to 10,000 men from Judah. 5Then Saul went to the city of Amalek and lay in wait in the valley. 6Saul sent this message to the Kenites: “Move away from where the Amalekites live or else you will die with them. For you were kind to the people of Israel when they came up from Egypt.” So the Kenites packed up and left.

7Then Saul slaughtered the Amalekites from Havilah all the way to Shur, east of Egypt. 8He captured Agag, the Amalekite king, but completely destroyed everyone else. 9Saul and his men spared Agag’s life and kept the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs—everything, in fact, that appealed to them. They destroyed only what was worthless or of poor quality.

10Then the LORD said to Samuel, 11“I am sorry that I ever made Saul king, for he has not been loyal to me and has again refused to obey me.” Samuel was so deeply moved when he heard this that he cried out to the LORD all night.

12Early the next morning Samuel went to find Saul. Someone told him, “Saul went to Carmel to set up a monument to himself; then he went on to Gilgal.”

13When Samuel finally found him, Saul greeted him cheerfully. “May the LORD bless you,” he said. “I have carried out the LORD’s command!”

14“Then what is all the bleating of sheep and lowing of cattle I hear?” Samuel demanded.

15“It’s true that the army spared the best of the sheep and cattle,” Saul admitted. “But they are going to sacrifice them to the LORD your God. We have destroyed everything else.”

16Then Samuel said to Saul, “Stop! Listen to what the LORD told me last night!”

“What was it?” Saul asked.

17And Samuel told him, “Although you may think little of yourself, are you not the leader of the tribes of Israel? The LORD has anointed you king of Israel. 18And the LORD sent you on a mission and told you, ‘Go and completely destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, until they are all dead.’ 19Why haven’t you obeyed the LORD? Why did you rush for the plunder and do exactly what the LORD said not to do?”

20“But I did obey the LORD,” Saul insisted. “I carried out the mission he gave me. I brought back King Agag, but I destroyed everyone else. 21Then my troops brought in the best of the sheep and cattle and plunder to sacrifice to the LORD your God in Gilgal.”

22But Samuel replied, “What is more pleasing to the LORD: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Obedience is far better than sacrifice. Listening to him is much better than offering the fat of rams. 23Rebellion is as bad as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as bad as worshiping idols. So because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has rejected you from being king.” (1 Samuel 15:1-23, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

Have you ever seen a meme with the phrase, “You had one job” stamped on it? Usually, it’s a humorous photo of something that has been completely botched (like the photo above) because whoever was responsible for doing that task was obviously not paying attention to what they were doing.

The idea is that the instructions for the task aren’t that complicated so success in the task should be rather high.

In this chapter of 1 Samuel, Saul’s response to the Lord’s command could be portrayed in a meme with the words, “You had one job” stamped across it.

Saul had ONE command from the Lord – completely destroy the Amalekite nation, including all people and their livestock. These instructions weren’t vague or subject to misinterpretation. It was a straightforward command, the outcome of which was not dependent on factors outside of Saul’s control. Therefore, the end result should have been straightforward as well.

However, when Samuel arrives on the scene after Saul and his men have finished their task, he sees that not only has much of the Amalekite’s livestock been spared but Agag, the Amalekite king has been spared as well.

Notice that when Samuel shows up Saul says, “I have carried out the LORD’s command!”

Samuel knows this isn’t true so he questions Saul about the sheep and cattle he sees and hears.

Saul rationalizes his behavior – he seeks to justify his actions in an attempt to circumvent the obvious truth that he and his men have not fully obeyed the Lord’s command.

The text tells us that the reason they spared the livestock was because it appealed to them. They destroyed only what was worthless and kept what was valuable – the fat lambs and calves.

Saul tells Samuel that the reason they haven’t destroyed the sheep and cattle is because they were intending to sacrifice them to the Lord. There are two reasons why we know this is not true, one practical and one logical.

Practically speaking, it doesn’t make sense that they kept all the sheep and cattle in order to sacrifice them. We’re talking about thousands of animals, not just a handful. Since this doesn’t make sense practically, we have reason to be suspicious about the veracity of Saul’s claim.

Secondly, a sacrifice is really only a sacrifice if you’re offering up something of your own to the Lord. None of these cattle or sheep belonged to Saul or his men so there is no logical way that they can say they are making sacrifices. Hence, his claim gives the added impression of being a ruse.

Now suppose the Lord had told them that they could destroy the people but keep the plunder for themselves, as He did in Joshua 8. Let’s further suppose that after destroying the people and the city and taking all of the goods, including livestock, for themselves, that the people decide to offer up some of their plunder to the Lord, as an act of worship. In this case, it would be a true act of sacrifice and worship because the people would be offering back something to the Lord that He had already given to them.

This is not the case with Saul. The command was to destroy the livestock as well as the people. Hence, the argument that they had obeyed and were intending to sacrifice the livestock does not add up.

There is one more reason we can know that Saul’s claim that he had fully carried out the command of the Lord was disingenuous.

Agag.

Even if you believed that Saul was intending to slaughter all the livestock in some sort of ginormous sacrificial ceremony, there still appears to be no logical explanation for the sparing of Agag’s life.

Samuel knows all of this intellectually, of course, which is why he responds by saying, “Obedience is far better than sacrifice.”

It’s so easy to fall into the sin of rationalizing our partial obedience. And just like Saul, the temptation to not fully obey is always rooted in our selfish, covetous nature. That is to say, we decide to not fully obey because full obedience would not allow us to get the outcome we want for ourselves, whether that’s some material gain (sheep and cattle) or some lifestyle preference.

We can try to rationalize our choices by saying things like, “I’m going to use this for the Lord” or “this situation is different” or “that doesn’t really apply to me” but Samuel’s words are just as true today as they were then, “to obey is better than sacrifice.”

Reflection

What is an instance where you were tempted to partially obey the Lord? What were the circumstances? How did you rationalize your choice?

Saul rationalized his disobedience because he wanted something (sheep and cattle). What are some things you are more prone to desire and covet that might be a source of temptation to disobey?

What are some modern ways people today make “sacrifices” to the Lord that are used as rationalizations to cover for choices that are clearly disobedient to God’s commands?

What advice would you give someone who wanted to know ways of developing a character and lifestyle of obedience to the Lord?

 

Photo from Wikimedia Commons